Europe and the Liberal Democrats – where next? LDN #141

Liberal Democrat Newswire #141 came out last week, and since then party conference has voted on the motion mentioned below, amending it to make the party’s support for the European Union even clearer. You can read the final version of the motion here and hear me discuss the origins of the party’s pro-Europeanism on Never Mind the Bar Charts. The polling mentioned below is still very relevant to how the party now goes about implementing the motion.

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Europe. It’s still there.

That’s both a geographic and a political observation.

Which is why it’s also the subject of one of the main debates coming up at the Liberal Democrat virtual conference in a few days. So this edition of Lib Dem Newswire takes a look at the motion up for debate and a key opinion poll finding relevant to that debate.

Registration for conference is still open, and of course without the need to sort travel and accommodation, it’s much more practical to sign up even now than it would have been for a physical conference. You can see the agenda here, get the conference app here and register online here.

See you (via a video camera) there!


P.S. What did you make of the hustings for the Lib Dem leadership contest? Let me know your views with this quick survey [closed].

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Only half of Remainers currently prefer asking to rejoin the EU

With Britain now in the transition period out of the European Union, what should Remainers call for? During the Lib Dem leadership contest, both Layla Mroan and Ed Davey drew a distinction between long-term goals and short-term tactics, as illustrated by their answers to Politico:

Q. Should the UK rejoin the EU?

Ed Davey: “I’ll always believe our best place is in the EU, but our job now is to convince the country of that. If the opportunity ever arises for us to rejoin, and we can take the public with us, I’ll be at the frontline of that fight.”

Layla Moran: “I would love to rejoin the EU, and I believe we will in years to come, but we must make the positive case to the public and win the hearts and minds of voters first. In the short term, my priority is to work cross-party to prevent a devastating no-deal Brexit at the end of the year.”

How best to convince the country and make that positive case? That starts with understanding where public opinion is currently at, and the latest opinion poll from Opinium rather helpfully illuminates that:

Which of the following best describes your stance towards Brexit?

  • 27% supportive of asking to rejoin the European Union
  • 17% supportive of a trade deal where the UK is closely aligned with the EU
  • 26% supportive of a trade deal where the UK has a clear break from the EU
  • 15% supportive of ending the Brexit transition period without a trade deal
  • 16% don’t know / not sure

Adding the first two options together – being in the EU and being closely aligned with the EU – still falls short of 50%. Those figures, of course, include Leavers but even among those who voted Remain in the referendum, support for asking to rejoin the European Union only rises to 51% and among Lib Dem voters at the 2019 general election it is 49%.

In other words, only half of Remainers, and similarly only half of Lib Dem voters from the last election, currently support asking to rejoin the European Union.

As ever, it is wise to be cautious about placing too much weight on one single poll, let alone one question within it. However, this one is in line with the rest of the poll and with other polls, such as in John Curtice’s recent round-up of the state of play in Euro polling.

Pushing a policy of rejoin now would mean pushing a policy that would lose even the support of half of Remainers. That is not an obvious path to success. What is needed, rather, is a way to bring together those who support asking to rejoin now, with those who are pro-European but do not support rejoin now – and adding to them both people who previously supported Leave but can be won over in the face of the damage from Brexit. All three of those groups are needed to build a large enough coalition to win.

This state of public opinion is why the person who tweeted at me accusing me of being a closet Leaver (!) for thinking that campaigning to rejoin now is not the way to build a winning coalition was not only wrong about me. He was also being counter-productive to the overall aim that we both share. We need to build a broader coalition, not play divide and rule as if the only proper pro-Europeans are those who want to campaign to rejoin now and everyone else is to be cast out as unworthy. (That’s a topic we also got into in the latest Lib Dem Pod / Never Mind The Bar Charts joint episode, which you can listen to here.)

This issue I am sure will feature in the discussions coming up at party conference, of which more in the next story.

Thank you to Rob Blackie for highlighting this poll to me.

Lib Dem European policy to be debated at conference

Here’s the text of the motion on Europe set to be debated at the party’s virtual autumn conference. Amendments to it can be submitted, and I would be surprised if we do not end up with at least one being debated. In the meantime, you can join the discussion about this motion over on the Lib Dem Newswire Facebook page.

Conference notes with deep concern:

A. The decision by the Conservative Government not to seek an extension to the post- Brexit transition period beyond 31 December 2020 despite the apparently deadlocked ‘ future relationship’ negotiations between the UK and the EU on economic, transport, migration, welfare, fisheries and security arrangements.

B. That the UK cannot afford to crash out of the EU without a deal in place or to accept a rushed, bad deal at a time when the UK is already facing the biggest crisis in generations as a result of Covid-19 against a background of intensified China-USA-Russia rivalry.

C. That the rights of UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK remain at risk, as the Conservative Government attempts to roll back from the commitments it made in the 2019 Withdrawal Agreement.

D. The Conservative Government’s Internal Market Bill, which the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has admitted will breach international law “in a very limited and specific way”, trashes the UK’s reputation, sets a dangerous precedent and almost certainly precludes any chance of a Free Trade Agreement with either the EU or the USA unless the offending sections are removed.

Conference believes that:

i) There is no deal that could be negotiated that could be more beneficial than continued membership of the EU, and the damage caused by Brexit to the UK’s economy human rights, security, and standing in the world will be profound and long-lasting.

ii) The UK and its people share fundamental values of liberalism. democracy and respect for the rule of law with our European neighbours and allies; the European Union is our natural home and the UK’s rightful place should be at the heart of the EU.

Conference affirms the party’s immediate priorities to:

a) Hold the Conservative Government to account unstintingly as it fails to deliver what it promised, and expose the damage of this Government’s Brexit to our economy, security, society and national unity.

b) Campaign vigorously against measures which are prejudicial to British industry, agriculture and democracy, and in so doing point to the benefits of closer relations with the EU.

c) Continue to work with others in Parliament (including in the House of Lords) to halt or amend damaging legislation such as measures in the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill.

d) Support international cooperation and a global rules-based system, and oppose isolationism and economic nationalism.

Conference calls for:

1. The Conservative Government to honour the commitments it made in the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration.

2. The rights of UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK not to be further eroded – and, where possible enhanced – and the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights and Charter of Fundamental Rights to be respected for all UK citizens.

3. The closest possible alignment between the UK and the EU towards customs union, single market and freedom of movement, including minimising tariff and non- tariff trade barriers, no lowering of environmental, food and animal welfare standards, and the maintenance of strong diplomatic, developmental, defence, security, judicial, educational and scientific cooperation.

In the longer term, conference resolves to keep all options open for the UK’s future relationship with the EU, including membership at an appropriate future date to be determined by political circumstances, subject to public assent, market and trade conditions and acceptable negotiated terms.

That tuition fees promise: what new research shows about the lessons to learn


There was a weird role reversal at the heart of the Liberal Democrat decisions over tuition fees in 2010, as Chris Butler’s new academic research reveals. So I invited him on Never Mind The Bar Charts to discuss what he has found, the lessons for the Liberal Democrats and the implications more generally about what makes for successful political parties. Take a listen here.

Other recent episodes to enjoy include:

🎧 Find all the episodes of Never Mind The Bar Charts here and sign up for an email notification each time a new episode appears here.

📱 Find Never Mind The Bar Charts on Twitter, give feedback and send in questions or ideas for future shows at @barchartpodcast.

Liberal Democrat Newswire is provided for free. Thank you so much to all the kind readers who donate to help cover its costs. It’s quick and easy to sign up for a small regular donation with your debit card using GoCardless:
Thank you! (Other donation options, including by PayPal or cheque, are here.)

Liberal Democrat selection news

Events in London have been understandably filling up my inbox. Here’s what is being done to put things right.

Selections for the Westminster Parliament have not yet started up again this Parliament. But selections are well under way for next May’s Scottish and Welsh elections, including in the last few weeks for Clwyd West (David Wilkins), Edinburgh Central (Bruce Wilson) and Wrexham (Tim Sly).

The Lib Dem peer who stole a credit card

In case you missed them the first time around, here are highlights from my websites since last time:

The Lib Dem peer who stole his Dad’s credit card and flew to Africa.

⭐ The Generous Society: a vision for the future liberals want.

Jane Dodds re-elected leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats.

New book says Jo Swinson invited Tom Watson to stand for Lib Dems.

Flick Rea stands down as Liberal Democrat leader in Camden.

Let’s all point together: Martin McCabe and Bob Smytherman show how its done.

⭐ Airdrie and Shotts set to be the next Parliamentary by-election?

Conservative MP broke rules by asking Parliamentary question after taking donation.

Conservative election agent in court over nomination paper trickery claims.

What the voters are saying

Latest general election voting intentions 20 September 2020

To get updates about voting intention opinion polls, sign up for Polling UnPacked or follow @PollingUnPacked on Twitter.

To see all the historical trends for voting intention polls back to 1943 see PollBase.

Local government moves

Council by-election campaigns are under way once again in Scotland, so watch out for reporting on election results recommencing shortly.

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems have gained an overall majority on Mendip Council after an independent joined the party. My former co-author Ed Maxfield, however, has left the party.

To get the full council by-election results every week when they resume, sign up for my blog posts digest and to be prepared for a council by-election in your patch, see my 7-step guide to getting ready in advance.

Tweet from Stuart Wood on friendship across political divides

Daisy Cooper is new Lib Dem Deputy Leader

Daisy Cooper was elected Deputy Lib Dem Leader by the party’s Dem MPs. She is also the party’s new education spokesperson. That vacancy arose because of Layla Moran’s promotion to Foreign Affairs spokesperson. One of Layla Moran’s first pieces of coverage in that role was in The Times: “Freeze Chinese oppressors’ dirty money and assets in UK“.

Former leader Vince Cable has been calling for more cooperation with Labour while new party leader Ed Davey has made his first campaign trip to Scotland, explaining the party’s opposition to Scottish independence. Wendy Chamberlain has tabled an amendment in Parliament highlighting the positive Lib Dem alternative: federalism.

Lib Dem councillors in Hull have called for a Citizens’ Assembly to hear residents’ views on the city’s approach to recovering from coronavirus. Christine Jardine has been in the news calling for health and care workers to be granted leave to remain in the UK. Best wishes to former MP Antoinette Sandbach who has started treatment for cancer.

A definition of transphobia has been adopted by the party’s Steering Group.

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